The river of consciousness – a librarian’s pick

Title: The river of consciousness

Author: Oliver Sacks

Yan’s Pick

Like most of his other works, this book of Sacks, two weeks before his demise, is a collection of extraordinary stories of our brain, plus many more. Some stories are informative and others are inspiring all with the author’s very conscious observations and research.

In the chapter called ‘Darwin and the meaning of flowers’ I first read detailed stories about Darwin who after the publication of ‘On the origin of the species’, he turned his full attention to plants.’ Sacks mentions that ‘where his early work was primarily as an observer and a collector, experiments had now become his chief way of obtaining new knowledge’. Indeed, Darwin was a biologist as well as a botanist, if we want to describe him. The meaning of flowers is clear to Sacks ‘life on our planet is several billion years old and we literally embody this deep history in our structures, our behaviors, our instincts, our genes’. Therefore, human beings are one of those living organism, just like any plant, and related to each other – ‘humans are related not only to apes and other animals but to plants too.’ (p 24 – 25)

Apart from Freud, mainly known as a founder of Psychoanalysis, less well known is that he was also a very good neurologist. His theory has some solid neurological base. The chapter ‘The other road: Freud as Neurologist’ was a contribution to the great man. The length of studies and experiments on anatomy and neurology would qualify Freud as a great Neurologist.

In the chapter of ‘Scotoma: forgetting and neglecting in science’, Sacks paid tribute to those scientists who made big discoveries as the time and technologies could allow but then were totally forgotten by later generations until someone else rediscovered the same thing. It’s sad that science doesn’t move straight forward but appears to be two steps forward and one step backward. Hopefully advanced computer science can improve on that front.

When gazing at the sky, we see stars shining and know there is an infinite universe out there – we don’t know how big it is and if there is an end. I think the same principles apply to our human brain – with its hundred billion of neurons, each with more than one thousand synaptic, we don’t know much about our brain yet, each as a star in the sky, although neurological research has advanced so much in the past few decades. But we’re doing better every day.

The book is beautifully and poetically written and it’s easy to understand. Recommended to whoever would like to know themselves more.